Guest Post: Charles Staley

I recently hung out with Charles when he came to the WFAC for an interview for the Starting Strength website. I was very amused by his demeanor, his wit, and his almost kid-like playfulness. He’s a successful coach and has an emphasis on training like an athlete instead of a stereotypical fitness “exerciser”. You can get a feel for his style on his website, Staley Training Systems, but this anti-exerciser approach is prevalent in the following article that he wrote.

Cheating To Win: Why You Should Take The Path Of Least Resistance

by Charles Staley

Cheating is perhaps the most maligned and least appreciated tactic in the weight room. It’s so important in fact, that I consider cheating to be the calling card of skilled lifters.

When we examine the three primary strength sports (weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman), it’s clear that cheating is an absolute prerequisite for success. Of the three disciplines, I’d argue that weightlifters have elevated the art of cheating to a sweet science. In fact, during the performance of the two competitive events (the snatch and clean & jerk), lifters violate almost every dearly-held notion in the personal training industry:

• During the “catch” phase of both the snatch and clean, lifters allow their knees to drift significantly in front of the toes.

• During the support phase of the snatch and the jerk, lifters aggressively lock their elbow joints against heavy loads.

• Both the snatch and clean start with what amounts to an accelerative deadlift with a heavy weight.

• In training, weightlifters rarely if ever use spotters— if they get into trouble with a lift, they simply drop the barbell on the floor.

• Both weightlifting events, as well as most of the assistance exercises they use, employ the use of maximum speed against the bar.

• Rather than use common set/rep brackets such as 3×10, 5×8, etc., weightlifters typically use many sets of 1-3 reps per set. Additionally, weightlifters avoid “failure” like Brittney avoids panties.

• Your weightlifting coach will never ask “How did that feeeel?” If your lift looked great, there’s no need to ask how it felt. If it sucked, there’s still no reason to ask.

• Weightlifters don’t do “cardio.” Try a clean & jerking a heavy triple and you’ll find out why.

• Weightlifters don’t lift in front of a mirror.

• Weightlifters, by definition, compete. Few weightlifting clubs will tolerate a lifter who won’t lift in meets. At least, not for long

• Weightlifters squat deep. So deep in fact, that there is a competition rule that forbids the lifter from touching his/her butt to the floor at the bottom of a snatch or clean.

• (Along the lines of the last point) weightlifters often round their low backs at the bottom of their squats. What’s that? You can keep your arch when your butt’s an inch from the floor? Send me the video.

• Weightlifters hold their breath during long portions of most lifts. They never “inhale on the lowering phase” or “exhale on the lifting phase.”

• Both the snatch and the jerk, as well as several assistance exercises for these two lifts) involve putting a barbell over your head.

And finally…

• As a global point, weightlifters seek the easiest way to lift a weight, not the hardest way.

It’s possible that I missed a few points, but I think my central point has been made. Now here’s what’s kinda interesting about all of this…

Most people who lift for the sake of improving their appearance typically try to avoid every one of these maneuvers. Yet, not only do weightlifters violate all of these sacred cows, they actually get better aesthetic results than their “exerciser” counterparts do, despite the fact that they don’t really lift for aesthetic purposes!

Recently I noticed a question on an internet forum from a 24-year old man who wanted to look like a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, in less than one year, starting from scratch as it were. He got plenty of advice, most of it relating to exercise choices, meal timing, set/rep brackets, and goal setting. My suggestion: if you want to look like an MMA athlete, why not become an (MMA) athlete?

Which of course, is the take-home point of this article. Any takers?

16 thoughts on “Guest Post: Charles Staley

  1. Glad to see you contributing here Charles. I love this concept of ‘exerciser’ vs ‘athlete’ you’ve come up with.
    I used to be one of those ‘exercisers’ that worked out to achieve a certain build. Its ironic that when I gave that up that silly bullshit mindset and switched to performance based goals and started to train like an athlete I look significantly better, adding 40lbs to my frame in the process.

  2. Maybe it’s because I compete in Oly lifting already but some of that stuff doesn’t seem like cheating at all to me especially the holding weight overhead one. I agree with most of the it though and I’d like to add one. Getting through the eccentric portion of the lifts as fast as possible. If you’re pulling the bar up superfluously high and then riding it all the way down from way above parallel you’re just wasting energy.

    Do you mean as opposed to dropping underneath it?


  3. Great article. I have been the athletic lifting type for about 10 years. In high school my friends would tell me to stop working out or that I was making them look bad and to put my shirt on if we were swimming or something. I kept telling them I just want to be stronger or that I want to be a better lacrosse player and that I dont really care what I look like but it never seemed to sink in with them. I guess it takes a certain mindset to tell yourself that you are going to do this to be a better ______, and not for asthetic reasons. Alot of people today see these MMA fighters, guys who got “ripped” doing P90X, or body builders and they think oh I want to look like a bad ass like that. My question then is; why would you want to train to look like a bad ass instead of actually trying to become a bad ass? I think too many people sell themselves short these days and that if something gets too hard they just settle for something less like looking like an MMA fighter rather then being one.

  4. Better aesthetic results?

    I’ve gotten these complaints from women in my life. The first three will only get worse. The last one is temporary.

    -Your traps and neck are too big.
    -Your ass and legs are too big.
    -Your chest is too small.
    -Why are you gaining weight on purpose? Now you don’t have abs.

    Everyone here can acknowledge that Olympic caliber lifters are pretty oddly shaped. Nowhere near the most aesthetically pleasing athlete.

    I’m an Olympic lifter and I bench press, and I don’t see a reason why O-lifters shouldn’t. You’d have to have a compelling argument for not doing so.


  5. Great post Charles. Always look forward to reading your stuff.
    Bendir, Kendrick Ferris isn’t oddly shaped, many Oly lifters aren’t. Some might argue that the super heavies or the really short ones are. But that has nothing to do with their OL training really.

  6. Bendir, it sounds like women in your life are hoping that competitive athletes will look like Abercrombie models. Next time find someone that looks like one and toss them into a hedge. See how that goes over.

    This is not the official 70’s Big recommendation.


  7. @ Justin

    but you’re not saying NOT to do it….right?

    Also, was just wondering if you’d consider looking into some type of archive feature for old 70s big posts? I know you’ve got the search bar, but if you’re not looking for anything in particular it’s not much help. Just a thought.

    I don’t search for a whole lot, but the, oh, say 10 times I’ve used the search function I’ve found what I was looking for. They are just in chronological order. But, I need to get someone to insert tags into all the posts (I did this for the first few posts, and then stopped for some reason). Other than that, I don’t know what you want me to do.


  8. Oh, forgot to mention I really liked this post. I think the whole idea of training for performance as opposed to just wanting to lose weight/get abzzz/look good in the mirror etc is so important in terms of motivation and actually acheiving goals.
    It seems like such a small thing but it totally changes the way you approach training (not to be confused with working out/exercising!)

    Thanks Charles/70s Big!

  9. “Do you mean as opposed to dropping underneath it?


    Depends on what you mean by dropping. At my gym that words got negative connotations and we usually call a lazy third pull just dropping under the bar. If you mean dropping as in receiving the weight just high enough to keep the upper back tight and rebounding out of the bottom though then yeah totally.

    I was only mentioning the point because I was coaching at a meet in Quebec last weekend and I spotted two kids who literally power cleaned the weight, front squatted it and then jerked it.
    I don’t remember the original post that you made, but I agree that there should not be a power clean and a front squat. I have seen that also, and it drives me nuts.


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  11. @ Justin

    What I was thinking of with regards to an archive feature is, for example, on the old Urban Gets Diesel blog. On the right-hand side there’s a section headed “more diesel” with drop-downs for each year and month and then each post by title.

    I just liked the idea of being able to go back and read all the old entries to see if I’d missed anything important.


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  13. Pingback: Cheating to Win – Why You Should Take the Path of Least Resistance » Deann Reese

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